People Like Us

Chapter 18 

While Danisha and company share telling revelations, let's see what's going down at the Palais de Justice. Ah, an interrogation, a confrontation, damning physical evidence, and a deep dark secret finally revealed. Claude Frollo thinks that, once this case comes to a rapid close, he can be reunited with his lady and child.  But he has no idea what's going on at his "New World" lady's pied a terre...Oh, if only the man could be in two places at once!
Claude Frollo, clad once again in the familiar chaperon and black robe with the red epaulets and bejeweled yoke, glared at the two people standing before him. In the quiet of an empty courtroom, he merely repeated the charges brought against the unfortunate pair. The man's booming baritone authoritively resounded throughout the chamber.
"Imbert l'Etrange, you are charged with kidnapping, extortion, murder..."

Minister Frollo rattled off more charges as Imbert continued looking down at the floor. He never made eye contact with either Frollo or Fabrisse; the latter quietly sobbed as she listened to Frollo read off charges against her. "Fabrisse duMarécage, you are charged with kidnapping, extortion, forgery, fraud, murder...."

Again, the list droned on and on, with Frollo pronouncing the penalty for said crimes: Death!

"But Your Grace!," Fabrisse blubbered, avoiding eye contact, "Imbert made me do these crimes. He said I wouldn't get caught, and that his plan was foolproof! Why should I be put to death? Why?!" 
"Silence!," Frollo roared; the ominous echo bounced repeatedly about the cavernous chamber. Immediately Fabrisse fell silent, with Imbert still eyeing the floor, still saying nothing.

Claude Frollo arose from his chair, nodded to the guard who stood in the back of the chamber, then resettled the moment the guard opened the heavy doors. When both Felise LaCourbe, the eyewitness, and Gervais Trigèré, his second in command, strode through, Frollo smiled thinly. He then resettled and continued to the offenders, "Mlle. duMarécage, M. l'Etrange. The sentence is not nearly harsh enough. May I remind you that you did not kidnap any child, but the Minister of Justice's nephew. This crime resulted directly in Judge Ouimet's death, of which I hold the pair of you responsible."

He eyed Imbert with mixed expression of marked amusement and disgust. "You, Imbert, a trusted household servant. How long have you been in M. Évrard Ouimet's employ?"
No answer from Imbert; the man merely shuffled about and rattled his shackles. Claude Frollo grew impatient. "Out with it, you idiot!"
Imbert nervously stammered, "S-s-since M. Ouimet married Mlle Rixende, sir. Th-that was back in June of 1481, sir."

Frollo eyed the man with contempt, merely saying, "Ah well, no matter. No doubt M. Ouimet is rightfully outraged with your thoughtless and ruthless behavior."

Saying nothing more, he then nodded to Trigèré. His second in command approach, carrying a bundle of items that made Imbert quake with fear and apprehension. Frollo then said as the items were unbound, "These items were recovered from the crime scene...Let's see..."
Frollo held up a well-worn doublet of dark green velvet, asking, "Imbert l'Etrange, is this your doublet?"

Imbert could only nod. Frollo smiled and continued as he neatly unfolded a large white handkerchief containing damning evidence. "A shred of fabric was found lodged within the gate's hinges. Apparently, during the struggle, you ripped your doublet." He produced a shred of dark green velvet, then once again picked up the doublet. Carefully matching the shred to the doublet's ripped space, Frollo smiled even broader, saying, "Your doublet was recovered from your quarters. It was identified by the Flamberts, M. Ouimet, and several servants. Look, Imbert, a perfect match. I take it you did not wear this anymore following that day you snatched Orry Ouimet."

Imbert l'Etrange, his eyes glazing over and heart racing, still said nothing. He couldn't believe this! He thought they'd never discover that doublet. Frollo also produced a silver button – Orry's button. "We also found this item. A button belonging to Orry Ouimet. I've received word from the child himself that he lost it while trying to fight off you and Fabrisse. He related the fact that the doublet was practically new, and all the buttons were in place before he left for my lady's dwelling."

Then Frollo motioned to the guard in the back to bring forth Felise. With some trepidation, Felise LaCourbe, the eyewitness, came forth. Claude Frollo gave the woman an encouraging smile as she turned to face the accused. He said, "Mlle LaCourbe has come forth as an eyewitness, and is sworn to tell the truth. She has already made her statement beforehand, however, I believe it is only right you hear it personally."

To Felise, he said, "Take a seat, Mlle LaCourbe."
"If it's all the same, sir, I'd rather stand," she replied with great respect and courtesy.
"Suit yourself, madamoiselle," Frollo rejoined with a nod.

Felise looked at Imbert with marked contempt, then launched into her testimony. At this point she didn't care if Imbert threatened to tell Évrard; that bombshell she dropped would be enough to silence Imbert for good. Humph! He thinks he knows all about "the secret", but I know even more – more than he'll ever be able to stomach...He doesn't know exactly how much HIS actions affected so many lives...

"Your Grace," began Felise with an air of renewed strength and dignity, "I had spent the night at your lady's home. Her sister and I had stayed up a good portion of the night going over research and my poetry. When dawn came, as I prepared to leave via the back entrance, I heard footsteps. Peering through a chink in the wall, I saw Orry. He almost had the gate latch undone when they grabbed him."
Frollo asked, "And who are 'they', Felise?"
Felise LaCourbe deliberately and determinedly pointed to the man and woman standing before her. "This man, Imbert l'Etrange, and this woman, Fabrisse duMarécage."

Claude Frollo so nodded and instructed his scribe to, "Enter into the record that Mlle LaCourbe has positively identified the accused."

Then Felise continued. "I saw them grab the boy. He put up quite a fight, even managed to slam Imbert against the gate. But they picked him up and stuffed him into a bag. Then they threw him into a wagon. That's when I went out into the alley and tried to stop them."
"And," asked Frollo, "what happened when you tried to stop the crime?"
"Minister Frollo, Imbert threatened me with exposure if I told a soul. He made it clear that he would tell Évrard Ouimet everything if I dared to report to either you or Évrard's brother."
"And what is this 'exposure'?"

Felise LaCourbe took a deep breath, asked for a cup of water, then continued. It was now or never, and Imbert had to be reminded that no longer did he have M. André Soulé to run to. No more will she cow to the likes of this man! Coolly and deliberately, she began her story of dangerous love, vicious revenge, and desperate acts. It was a recollection full of pain and sorrow for Felise, but she held her own.
"As I said, Imbert threatened to tell Évrard Ouimet....Let me back up to the beginning..."

She then repeated to Claude Frollo the same recollection told to Cherie Wood and Jehan Frollo. She told the good judge about a charmed childhood of privilege and wealth, but clouded by dark secrets only known to her and her brother. "Our parents died before we reached marriageable ages, Your Grace." Felise stopped herself long enough to regather her thoughts. At last she said, "Minister Frollo, perhaps it's best for me to tell how Imbert l'Etrange complicated my life and that of Rixende's."
Frollo nodded, casting his eyes upon the turncoat servant. He knew the full secret because he had the pertinent letters before him: One addressed from Rixende Ouimet to Quentine; the other from André Soulé to Claude Frollo. The latter never reached Frollo's hands as it had been intercepted by Philippe Ouimet. Both letters detailed events leading up to the most shocking of deceptions; and now, Imbert was about to hear the most damning secret of all. So, for the next several minutes, Felise's testimony recapped those events.

There was a longtime relationship with Quentine, then Rixende, and how the latter's father quelled the forbidden romance by marrying off Rixende to Évrard Ouimet. The affair resumed after the wedding; Rixende grew moody and depressed, and harbored bitter anger toward her father. How dare he keep her and Francesca apart for so long. Felise recounted how Imbert was sent to the Ouimet household, "As a wedding present, my foot! Soulé sent the man to spy on Rixende, in the event she decided to resume our love affair. Imbert reported our every move, our every stolen moment to Soulé. We resorted to written correspondence, but Imbert intercepted several letters. That's when it finally happened." 
"What happened, Mlle LaCourbe?," inquired Frollo. 
"André Soulé sent Imbert to my villa to 'teach this wicked wanton a lesson'."

Claude Frollo, now a bit uneasy of what was to come, and still eyeing Imbert l'Etrange, merely waved to an attendant to fill his water cup. He knew it was matter of time before Imbert could no longer play the trump card, and Frollo wanted to savor every minute of the wretched man's imminent defeat. Upon a second or third scan of the papers before him, Frollo nodded for the testimony to continue.

Felise LaCourbe AKA Francesca Gaudet, resumed her testimony. "Sir, one night, Imbert was sent to my villa...My brother was not home at the time and I was quite alone, except for Quentine. She was busily occupied with something elsewhere in the house. Anyway, I was sitting out in my garden...It was a pleasant evening so..."

Now comes the shaking of the voice, the sweat gathering on the brow and upper lip. As much as she wanted Imbert to pay for his crimes, this particular recollection proved to be considerably painful. "Minister Frollo, sir, may I have a bit of wine? It's to settle my nerves, sir."

As if he predicted Felise's request, Frollo obliged with a quick insistent snap of the fingers. An alert young boy brought forth Burgundy in a particularly lovely cup of good-quality Depression-era glass. Felise eyed in peculiarly, and Claude Frollo pronounced, "It once belonged to my lady's grandmother, Mlle LaCourbe. Part of a special collection, she says. Take care not to drop it as it is a precious gift."

Noting Felise's acute discomfort, Frollo asked if she'd rather sit down for the duration of her testimony. "Oh thank you, sir!," came the quick reply as she took a healthy swig of wine. Frollo smiled again, then commanded, "Continue!"

Felise refocused; the wine made her a bit bolder now. "I heard a noise coming from the garden wall. I thought it was a dog or other animal...But....Imbert stole his way inside and accosted me the moment I got up to investigate. He told me not to make any noise, or he may be forced to hurt me."

"He told me that Rixende is to never see me again, as ordered by M. Soulé. He said that I have to be taught a lesson because I led a fine man's daughter astray. I had an idea what Imbert was up to, so I tried to escape and call out to Quentine. But Imbert cornered me in a secluded spot in the garden where no one ever's all overgrown and fairly insular..."

Tears trickled down Felise's smooth peaches-and-cream complexion as she vehemently continued, "He outraged me, sir! He raped me so viciously, so hatefully!" She paused to catch her breath, to gauge Imbert's reaction. Good, she thought triumphantly, he's sweating; his heart's pounding and now there's no where to escape. The remainder of Felise's testimony consisted of the rape and its aftermath. She recalled screaming for help; and Imbert, alarmed that his dastardly deeds might be discovered, made sure the assault was quick but not without pain. Surely, when the victim screamed again, the hired companion, Quentine, appeared in the garden, only to see Imbert scrambling up the rose hedge and over the pink brick wall.

"We didn't know what else to do," recalled Felise. "Of course, I reported this to Rixende, and to my brother. Raimon wanted to demand Imbert punished for his crime, but I refused to allow this. It would only cause unnecessary scandal for myself, Évrard, and Rixende."

The months rolled by without incident. The lesbian affair cooled somewhat in fear of yet another reprisal. Now, a few months later, Felise finds herself with child and had already made up her mind as what to do. 
"Since my married brother Eustache's wife was barren, I thought that it would be only fair..."

Felise paused again, only to admit finally the dreadful secret she and so many others had guarded for nearly eight years. To a shocked Claude Frollo and to a even more shocked Imbert l'Etrange, Felise LaCourbe née Francesca Gaudet revealed these facts:
"I remained confined at home during my pregnancy, sir. When it came close to delivery, it ws agreed that...Sir, Rixende devised another solution that was, in the end, her undoing. You see...When I delivered my baby, it was discovered that I carried twin boys. That was when Rixende's plot came into play. She faked her pregnancy, even refused Évrard ever to sleep with, or touch her. She maintained separate bedchambers throughout the whole time. We couldn't believe our good fortune the moment my babies were born. "

"Évrard was out of the city on business; he'd been gone nearly a month, so Rixende told me. Nothing could've been more perfectly timed. As originally planned I gave one child to Eustache and Ines..."

Now Claude Frollo, thoroughly engrossed in this mind-numbing tale of deceit and desperation, leaned forth and asked point blank, "What happened to the other child?"

Felise did not hesitate. "I gave the other baby to Rixende, who promptly christened him 'Orry'."

She turned to Imbert and hissed, "You see, Imbert, those boys are YOUR children! Orry and Guibert were sired by YOU!"

The turncoat servant's face flushed beet red, the eyes bulged; his heart raced out of control. He struggled against his shackles as Felise further needled him with, "You kidnapped your own son! O wretched man! After all these years you thought you had secrets on me. Well! I've held this secret for nearly eight years! I only came to Paris to escape the likes of you! Now, tell me: WHO'S to reveal to Évrard the truth now?!"

She could say no more, finally falling into an uncontrollable sobbing heap. Claude Frollo decided this was enough and ordered Felise taken to his private quarters. He then glared at Imbert and said, "O most unholy, unworthy demon. Soon, you shall be sent back to Hell where you belong, but not before I leave you with this: Madame Ouimet, on the day she took her own life, penned a letter to her father; a copy was left with Évrard's caretaker, Quentine."

He indicated the papers before him and continued, "Mlle LaCourbe's eyewitness – and eye-opening – testimony aside, there is enough evidence in these letters alone to convict you of several heinous offenses. It may be of interest that I've dispatched a special courier to the magistrate in Marseilles. The hired killer, Georges Morté has made a startling confession, and that document is on its way to Marseilles as we speak. No doubt M. André Soulé will find himself in very dire straits."

Frollo arose from his chair then beckoned to his guards to return the prisoners to the dungeons. Before leaving the courtroom, he finally pronounced sentence. "Imbert l'Etrange and Fabrisse duMarécage. You have been found guilty of the aforementioned charges. The sentence: Death! Execution is set for the day after tomorrow at dawn. You will be taken to la Place de Ville where you will hang by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on your immortal souls."


Later that evening, in Frollo's private chambers....
"Mlle LaCourbe, I will not say that I approve of, but I want to commend you on coming forth, and presenting your testimony."

So said Claude Frollo when he finally returned to his study. He graciously offered refreshment to the lady sitting in the "big chair" as his Nisha so often called it. Happily and with gratitude, Mlle LaCourbe accepted the late evening repast of cheese, early fall fruits, bread, and wine. She and Frollo discussed many things, such as the fates of two kidnappers, an awful secret revealed, and as to her future plans.
The woman who now called herself Felise LaCourbe had slept much of the early evening hours. It was a rather stressful day for the lovely, talented lady from Marseilles, what with narrowly escaping instant death and ultimately facing the man who for so many years tormented the poor lady. He, Imbert l'Etrange, the Ouimets' "trusted" family attendant, finally met the end of a long virulent road of terror and violence. That man, along with the aging prostitute Fabrisse duMarécage and the hired assassin Morté, was now locked away in a dank, heavily guarded, dungeon cell awaiting execution.

Claude Frollo had hoped to uncover the mystery behind that booby trap that claimed Judge Philippe Ouimet's life. Frollo was certain that Imbert and Fabrisse devised that trap, but he also entertained the notion that Gypsies may have rigged that crossbow.

Why not?, thought Frollo as he dwelled upon the latter suspicion. Those ungodly heathens, who live outside the natural order, could have done just that. What if the Gypsies were in collusion with Imbert and Fabrisse; what if Imbert's lies weren't exactly lies? Well, he could have spread the word that the Gypsies kidnapped Orry just to cover up his part in the crime. That crime scene evidence gathered by Julian McNaney did point incriminatingly to Imbert and Fabrisse, but there had to be more.  Perhaps Julian missed something, and there had to be, according to Frollo, an outside chance that the Gypsies had to have a role in Judge Ouimet's murder. 
Humph! I would not doubt that the brazen "king" Clopin set that trap, just to throw us off his trail...Wait until I get my hands on him and the rest of his ungodly...Yes! Send Trigèré out with the best of soldiers; recruit more spies...Find the Court of Miracles once and for all! Philippe, I do this out of friendship and honor...Your murder will be avenged, swiftly! The guilty shall pay with their lives, painfully...

"Minister Frollo," ventured Felise between sips of wine and bites of cheese, "I know that what I revealed was quite a shock, but it had to be said. Promise that you won't tell Évrard. He never learned the truth; Rixende and I went to great pains to keep him from knowing. For now, Orry is Évrard's son, and Évrard is Orry's father. He adores the boy so, and he's been far better for Orry than that Imbert shall ever be."
Claude Frollo refocused on what Felise said; he countered, "Mlle LaCourbe, you and Madame Ouimet committed a most heinous act of deception. To pass off your child as the child of another, to conceal that child's true parentage from the man who reared him...And that letter! It is my understanding that Madame Ouimet wrote that letter to her father out of revenge for keeping the pair of you apart..."

"Yes, Your Grace. And Rixende wrote another letter to Quentine detailing what we did. It was believed that Quentine could be trusted with such information, that is to keep our secret safe."

Frollo smiled thinly, pronouncing, "No matter. Your secret is safe with me. Orry belongs with the man he calls 'Father', the very man who has reared him...I shan't tell Évrard Ouimet or the Flamberts...I take it they do not know."

Felise shook her head, only saying, "Rixende told me that Clarice took one look at the boy and pronounced that he was a splitting image of Évrard." Finally, for the first time in several long days, Felise broke out into to broad smile that soon twitched with laughter. "Well," she said between giggles, "I'm of Moorish descent myself, so mine and Orry's coloring are similar."

Then, in a more serious tone, "I don't know what would've happened if the boys looked like Imbert, with that pale, lank hair and the unresponsive eyes."
"Perhaps," explained Frollo, "Providence smiled upon your trials..."

His voice trailed off as the bells of Notre Dame could be heard in the distance. "Is it that late? My goodness, I missed the homecoming." With that, Frollo rose from his chair and summoned a servant to clear away the remains of supper. He also called for his carriage to be readied for travel. Donning the familiar chaperon he said to Felise, "Orry and his father are now reunited. Allow me to escort you home; no doubt Évrard will commend you on coming forth as an eyewitness." Felise replied as she donned her heavy black cloak, "Sir, if you don't mind, I'd rather call it a day. Now that this is over I must move on with my life. Perhaps I'll return to Toulon, perhaps I'll remain in Paris. No, I don't want to return to Marseilles..."

Claude Frollo pondered Felise's words as the pair traveled long corridors and descended the many stairs. He had only this to say once they reached the outside and got into the carriage: "Whatever you decide, Mlle LaCourbe, is up to you. However, may I remind you that lifestyle and predilections are illegal in the eyes of the law. You, my dear lady, via a current clandestine tryst, put not only yourself but another lady in danger. Mlle Cherie, despite her predilections, is my beloved's sister, and therefore is deserving of my protection. In the future, Mlle LaCourbe, try to be more scrupulous with your relationships. Take care that you do not incur a parent's wrath, as you did with Rixende Ouimet. The high price of desire and passion, dear lady, as we've all learned today, can ultimately lead to one's undoing."

Felise LaCourbe nodded in agreement. "I shall remember your words, sir. But...Cherie and I have gotten along so famously these days. May I inquire about her country, this 'New World'? Is it as advanced as they say it is? Are the rumors of Christophe Colombo's voyage true? That the New World is full of gold and riches beyond our wildest dreams? Has to be, for such a nation that produces the fine items such as the piano and that other music machine your lady keeps in her home..."

Claude Frollo only smiled as Felise continued her non-stop chatter about wondrous "New World inventions". His allowed himself marked amusement as he knew no additional persons – save Évrard and Orry – be told the fantastical truth behind his most unusual friends.

Ah, how fortunate for everything to work out in the end. At last, Frollo would be reunited with his lady and child; they could finally resettle, become a real family. Frollo had already made up his mind: to ask his Nisha for her hand, and this time she could not refuse. He thought of that special surprise and looked forward to Nisha's reaction. Oh my! She will, as she puts it, '"Trip out!"

Felise noticed Frollo almost dreamy expression and observed, "You are in love with the lady that much, sir." 
A slightly blushing Claude Frollo grinned. "Yes, Mlle LaCourbe, I love her very much. So much that...Well, let us see you home first; it is rather late and I didn't intend for the hearing to go on as long as it did."

As the carriage made its way through darkened streets, Felise wondered if Évrard and Orry had gone home. She could see the flicker of lights through the upper story windows. She grinned. "Perhaps it's best we don't disturb them...Just see me home, and you can spend a well deserved evening with your lady and daughter." 
When the carriage turned the corner and finally stopped, both Felise and Frollo could tell that the interior Danisha's home was completely darkened save a dim lantern light shining in the front window. Across the street, a lamplight could been glowing within Felise's upper story chamber.

"See, sir? I knew she'd wait up for you, as Cherie is waiting up for me. Thank you for seeing me home, M. Frollo."

Frollo waited on the curb as Felise dashed across the street and disappeared behind her door. She sent a flicker of lamplight to signal that all was well. Claude Frollo smiled again as he unlocked his lady's front door.

Striding through he called, "Danisha! My love, it is over, and all is well!"

No response.

He called out again. "Nisha! Nadine!"

Soon he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Ah, at last! Frollo picked his way through the dimly lit room as those footsteps grew closer. Without hesitation he launched into a series of questions. 

"Danisha, my love, I trust Évrard and Orry were reunited without much trouble. And I trust you didn't tell Jacqueline that the Ouimets know our secret..."

He was cut short by a heavy and aged female voice. That woman's voice sounded very familiar as she finally made herself known.

"She's not here, honey," pronounced Nola Jean Ransom, a queen-sized, formidable, ebony-hued lady, as she approached Frollo. Leaning on her cane for support, she settled on the sofa while beckoning Frollo to sit in the chair facing her.  She glared at Frollo and shook her head with a mixture of anger and disappointment. 

In a voice as heavy and hard as iron, she said, "As I said, Claude, she isn't here, and neither is Nadine. Honey, I knew, deep in my heart, it might come to this. I told that girl that someday your unresolved issues would spell the downfall...."

Then, "Nisha is gone — She took her baby and walked out on you, and I'm afraid it's for good."


To Chapter 19 (I)

Copyright©2001 by FrolloFreak® AKA "The FanFic Diva"